Aubri Steele is the Founder, CEO and “il Capo” at Civile. As CEO and Founder, Steele wears many hats, managing day-to-day operations, brand strategy and sales as well as overseeing product design, development and retailing.
During the COVID-19 pandemic when the world was experiencing unparcelled loss, division and isolation, Steele was revitalized by the way that Pickleball brought her community together. Recognizing an opportunity in the marketplace for similar active women who loved the sport, Steele set out to create a brand that was equally as stylish and versatile as it was inclusive. Inspired by her late father’s entrepreneurial spirit and benevolence, Steele saw an opportunity to create a meaningful legacy brand through which she could “build a boat” that would carry families and friends alike through a shared purpose, just as her father had once done.
A mother of five and a multifaceted businesses woman, before founding Civile, Steele taught at both Mira Costa High School and California State University Monterey Bay. Additionally, she held a variety of roles in the commercial real estate industry, including creative marketing director and brokerage service specialist.
Steele earned a bachelor’s degree from California State University San Marcos and a master’s degree in education from Alliant University, specializing in linguistics and ESL. Her background in such a diverse range of sectors brings a unique understanding and perspective to her position as CEO.
When Steele is not juggling the responsibilities of running a business, she can be found surrounded by friends, family and animals both at home and on the Pickleball court.
Where did the idea for Civile Apparel come from?
Civile Apparel is a female-founded, female-funded, American-made Pickleball apparel brand, defining the emerging culture of the sport through the modernization of the current fashion aesthetic. I launched the brand in early 2021, born out of isolation amidst the pandemic when I saw how the sport united my family and our community in a time of division across the world. The smaller court and dink-style play allowed for varying levels of exertion and therefore was accessible for people of all ages. We quickly became well-versed in the game and began inviting neighbors and friends to play, all while maintaining social distance and excessive sanitizing of equipment. This was the sport we could play with our parents AND our children. Simply put, pickleball brought us together.
Upon diving further into the fashion behind the sport, I noticed that there was no urban-facing apparel brand that married my active lifestyle with who I am as a woman, and definitely nothing out there that felt as multifaceted as I do. And so, Civile was born to address that void and to remind us all, no matter which side of the line you play on, “be civil, play nicely.”
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Being in the early stages of starting a business, my typical day is consumed with everything from designing the next core line, to mitigating current supply chain issues, to updating the website, to overseeing focus groups for feedback and evolution. It’s some form of beautiful chaos. My favorite part is learning. I am learning every single day and it feeds me in a way few other things in my life have. Unfortunately, not many of my days are actually filled with pickleball anymore.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I watched a fascinating documentary recently on creativity and was reminded that inspiration is absolutely everywhere. I don’t often come up with design ideas from other articles of clothing, but often from a plant, or a building, or even a word in a foreign language.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m a die-hard fan of the drop-crotch pant. Our Generous Harem is, hands down, my favorite piece to wear right now. It’s a true drop style and it looks amazing on the court AND with a pair of heels. We are toying with a shorts version in one of our upcoming drops.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Note-taking. I am borderline Memento-esque at times with my notes. If I write something by hand, I remember it, even without the note. Therefore, I’m constantly taking notes about what to do. The list is long, endless actually, but somehow it stays in order in my head if I’ve written it down. Call it old age, but typing doesn’t have the same effect for me. I can imagine it does for my kids, as their muscle memory is associated with typing in the same way mine is with “tablet and chalk.”
What advice would you give your younger self?
I think people have always looked at their job as either a “creative” job or not. It was very black and white, and if you didn’t have the appropriate credentials to be a creative person, you didn’t find yourself in such a position to flex those muscles. At the age of 42, I stepped away from the licenses I had and gave myself the right and the opportunity, to be creative without any of the appropriate credentials to do so. It was incredibly freeing to just step into the space and allow myself the chance to see what I could do. I wish I had done that sooner. I think everyone has a creative side, and so many people never give themselves the chance to see what it’s made of.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Technology isn’t always the most helpful tool when scaling a business. Don’t get me wrong, there have been a lot of great advancements over the years – and even in the past decade alone, helping small businesses reach mass audiences. However, I think sometimes the old school approach – whether that’s taking notes by hand or creating authentic relationships in real life can have the biggest impact. At Civile, those authentic relationships built from face time with our customers has been a huge driving force in our brand. We revel in the moments we have playing with, or simply talking to, the clients we serve, and I believe it has helped define who we are as a company and been an incredible asset in gaining and maintaining incredible customer loyalty.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Put the customer first. It goes back to a simple concept, “you will never regret being kind.”
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I stick to my values. We’ve been very fortunate to connect with people who recognize the values that make us unique. It’s served us well to stand by the values on which Civile was built and to honor them in everything we do. To some people, they won’t matter, but to our customers, they make all the difference. This goes for investors as well.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ll need some more paper here! Most failures are insignificant in size, but they are like moths struggling in the window of a dark bedroom… they keep you awake, no matter how tiny they are. I’m fortunate that my failures are small, although plentiful. One of the bigger mistakes that I struggle most with is the blind trust I have with everyone I come across. Unfortunately, not every businessperson is one of their word and I have been burned, more than once, by contractors or businesses who saw an opportunity to take advantage of that trust. It’s an unfortunate reality, but I’m not letting it sway me from my belief that the majority of people and business persons are well-intended.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Lookout Shark Tank, here it comes. I’ve said for years that someone needs to make brakes for shopping carts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve parked the metal cart gently against my car, cringing at the small marks it was undoubtedly leaving in my paint, in an effort to not have it run away from me in the lot. I’ve mastered the one foot on the bottom of it while lifting heavy things out, but on more than one occasion I’ve had it run away with a child inside. Proud mom moments there. To be honest, I looked into it, and someone had some sort of trademark on the concept, but I have never seen it come to fruition. Sell direct to the stores, not the customers. It would make a world of difference!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
We spontaneously grabbed an open campsite at our local beach the other night. It wasn’t warm and only a couple of the kids even went near the water. But, all our kids, one of their significant others, three neighbor kids, a niece and our parents all joined us there for pizza, s’mores and some quality laughter around a campfire. Hands down, best $100 spent in a while.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We added an affiliate program into our Shopify account, and it has been an effective tool for us. Being a small company in the San Diego area, it’s been very useful to have affiliates across the nation, helping us spread the word about Civile. The affiliates receive a kickback on the sales that come through the program, and we feel it’s a great way to get enthusiastic boots on the ground in other areas.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman. Business concepts are like creativity; if you don’t have the license to do it, you often steer clear. This book was helpful and insightful to me as it exposed me to vernacular and concepts that I hadn’t dealt with much in my prior career. The book covers many concepts, including everything from marketing to finance, and is a fairly comprehensive look at everything you should consider when starting a business.
What is your favorite quote?
“A rising tide lifts all boats.” My father lived and breathed by this quote. He put it into action when he opened the doors of a small manufacturing business in Burbank, CA, with no college degree. His plan was a simple and humble one. If the business was a success, he would use his profits to feed his young family and, when we were no longer in need, he would sell off the equipment and close the doors. I watched as he truly enriched the lives of everyone he touched. I watched, in awe and admiration, as he built his metaphorical boat, loaded us all inside, and led us to a brighter future.
It is part of our core values at Civile that we work hard to use our company as a platform for good by getting involved in community events and organizations, capitalizing on charitable opportunities, and donating to fundraisers large and small. Of all my goals with Civile, the biggest of these is to build the boat. A boat which will carry people to a better place. A boat that will rise with the tide. A boat that will house families, teach them to sail, and bring us all to a better and brighter destination.
- A rising tide lifts all boats. Strive to succeed not just for personal gain, but for the opportunity to help others achieve success as well. Build a boat that will rise with the tide, a boat that will house families, teach them to sail, and bring everyone to a better and brighter destination, together.
- Be civil and play nice in all aspects of life. Through times of pain and hardship, lean on one another and find ways to bring joy to another person’s day. Lean on and contribute to communities, whether they be large or small. There is room for everybody, so be inclusive.
- Don’t put guardrails on creativity just because of the occupation or credentials held. Allow the mind and heart to flex those muscles, even without permission! That’s when the magic happens. Everyone has a creative side, and so many people never give themselves the chance to see what it’s made of. Let’s change that.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.